Friday, October 21, 2011

Out of the mountains and into the more monkeys!

Starting our descent of 11,000 feet into the jungle...
After making our way through La Paz we headed on for Coroico, a small town located at the beginning of the Amazon Basin.  A new, safer road to Coroico was recently built replacing the original, infamous “death road,” which claimed around two trucks a week over its steep drops for several years before.  Now “death road” is mostly used by adventurous mountain bikers and the occasional tourist brave enough (or stupid enough) to drive down it. 
The entrance to "death road"
Of course, we HAD to drive down part of it on our way back to La Paz, but we will get to that later.  We started our decent at 15,000 feet on a beautiful, windy road though some pretty dramatic mountain scenery.  It was freezing cold and as we got a little further into the drive it started snowing.  The snow quickly turned into freezing rain as we continued to drop in altitude. 
We should have known things were going to get rough!
After dropping more than 11,000 feet in a little over two hours (all in the rain and clouds, of course) we finally made it to the turnoff for Coroico.  After driving up 10 km of wet cobblestone and mud roads we finally made it to our hotel, where we finally caught a break.  The senora ran a very nice restaurant on site where she happened to be making one of Ty’s favorite dinners, spaghetti with meat sauce, and she was more than happy to wash all of our muddy clothes. 
The next day was beautiful and after enjoying a nice breakfast we headed down the road about  7 km to La Senda Verde animal refuge, the main reason for our visit to Coroico.  We rang the bell at the entrance, which was located at one end of a suspension bridge crossing a beautiful river below.  After a few minutes, a tall, South African man came to the door and showed us to the main building.  Our ears were immediately filled with the sounds of hundreds of tropical birds surrounding us on all sides. 
A couple of the beautiful residents having lunch
We walked in and met Danny, a volunteer from England who would give us a tour of the refuge.  First, he showed us the capuchin monkeys who all hung out at one end of the refuge.  Several of them were allowed to run around freely, but a few of them had to be kept in (very big) cages for their own safety or the safety of others.  For example, one female capuchin had been badly abused by her female Bolivian owner and any time a woman would get near her she would bite.  Two other capuchins were kept in a cage together because all of the other monkeys bullied them; luckily they really loved each other and were very happy hanging out in their own little area together.  Regardless, all of the monkeys seemed very happy in their current environment at the refuge. 
Unfortunately, bullying happens in the monkey world too.  This little guy and his friend were so sweet and I was glad they had each other.
Most of the animals living there have been rescued from private homes where the owners kept the animals in cages and did not give the animals the proper care they need.  As a result, many of the animals have permanent ailments that will prevent them from ever being able to be released into the wild.  But, like I said, they all seem very happy being where they are. 
Next up, he introduced us to some of the beautiful tropical birds.  There were scarlet macaws, blue macaws, green and gold macaws, parakeets, toucans, pheasants, and one very special bird named Scruffy.  Scruffy was a blue macaw who had been abused in the past and was so traumatized by it that he constantly picked out all of his beautiful feathers, hence the name “Scruffy.”  However, this trauma did not keep him from being the friendliest bird Ty or I had ever come across; he would come up, lay on his back and beg for belly rubs amongst many other very sweet things he would do. 
Cute man...
 We continued our walk through the refuge were we saw six giant tortoises along with about 30 smaller turtles living in a nice little pond next to them.  Next, there was a baby crocodile (fenced off from the turtles, of course) living in his own little pond nearby.
Some of the tortoises basking in the sunlight.
As we walked towards the end of the refuge, we were lucky enough to glance some of the squirrel monkeys up in the trees chasing each other.  They are very fast and sometimes pretty difficult to see and, as we were informed by Danny, are quite the troublemakers.  Even so, they were extremely cute and we were glad we got to see them.
It was tough to even snap a picture of this rascal!
Lastly, we made our way to where the spider monkeys hang out.  There were several of them hanging out in the trees above us and Danny pointed out Cacao, the alpha male of the group.  He was so beautiful and, to our surprise, he started walking down the tree right towards the bench we were sitting on.  He hopped up on the bench next to me, grabbed my hand and laid his little head right in my lap.  It was so amazing and if it weren’t for the sand flies absolutely destroying me I think it would have been tough to ever leave! 
Hanging out with my new buddy, Cacao
Such a nice little man!
As we walked back towards the main house, Cacao grabbed Ty’s hand and decided he would walk with him back to the house…too cute! 
I'm a pretty big fan of this duo!
After an amazing lunch of homemade pasta and a delicious salad bar (while the monkeys hung out on the roof)

we went outside to meet one last lady; she was a coati, which is similar to an anteater, and I didn’t think they were usually very friendly with humans.  She was different though and she hopped right up on my lap expecting a belly rub.  I was happy to oblige and a few minutes later she wandered back off down the pathway. 
I was so surprised at how friendly she was!
We said our goodbyes to everyone at the refuge and headed back to our hotel for the night.
The next morning, we headed out for Oruro (nothing spectacular, just a good halfway point on our way to Salar de Uyuni) via La Paz.  It was a clear, beautiful day; the exact opposite of the day we came down.  The scenery was stunning as we climbed the 11,000 feet back up to the entrance of “death road.”  We decided we had to drive atleast a portion of the road just to see what it was like.  It was exactly like we thought: very windy, gravel road with extremely steep drops and some seriously beautiful views.  We didn’t think it was that much worse than some of the roads we had already driven on, although we could picture two semis meeting on that road which was barely wide enough for one truck to get by and we could see why it had gained its nickname. 
A roadside grave along "death road"
We made our way back up to the main road and headed for Oruro for the evening en route to Salar de Uyuni!